Education is the Great Equalizer: Rocketship Fuerza

March 28, 2016

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"There will be no free rides, no excuses. You already have two strikes against you: your name and your complexion. Because of these two strikes, there are some people in this world who will assume that you know less than you do. Education is the great equalizer... You're going to work harder here than you've ever worked anywhere else. And the only thing I ask from you is GANAS. Desire." - Jaime Escalante (portrayed in the film, Stand and Deliver)

Urban Dictionary defines ganas as: desire, urge; from the Spanish verb, ganar, to win or gain; a term popularized by LA mathematics teacher Jaime Escalante (played by Edward James Olmos) in the movie "Stand and Deliver." Often the word is used to refer to guts or courage, and is usually underscored with emphatic pride.

At Rocketship Education's Fuerza Community Prep, "ganas" is a core value along with responsibility, respect, empathy, and persistence. For a school located on the Eastside of San Jose that serves a population of students much like the East L.A. students depicted in Stand and Deliver, ganas is an apt value. San José, is the third-largest city by population in California, the tenth-largest in the United States, the "capital of Silicon Valley," and considered a global city. Yet Eastside San Jose is a metaphorical world away and faces some of the most challenging socioeconomic conditions in California.

Opening in fall of 2014 with 490 students, Fuerza Community Prep serves primarily low-income students in a neighborhood where access to excellent schools is limited. Parents in the community pushed with force to open Fuerza. Today, enrollment includes 592 Students in grades TK-5, 86% of those students participate in the free & reduced price meals program (FRPM), a measure schools use to determine the percentage of enrolled students who are disadvantaged.

"Our families voted to name our school Fuerza because it means "power" "strength" or "force." Their sense of urgency and "ganas" illuminated our path and propels us forward," said Principal Maricela Guerrero. "We seek to unleash independent, critically thinking, and socially-active citizens ready to lead, and transform themselves and their community."

Located on the site of an old post office building on South Jackson Avenue, Rocketship Fuerza was the ninth charter public school in the Rocketship Education network to open in San Jose. Rocketship schools are notable for their rigor, as demonstrated by student success in reading and math. Students have two teachers, one for humanities and one for math and science. Throughout the day, they transition to the learning Lab where the majority of the personalized learning happens. The main goal is to offer access to an excellent education and to make college an attainable reality.

Rocketship Fuerza teachers help students articulate how the knowledge and skills they acquire will affect their lives and communities. Teachers challenge students to demonstrate mastery of learning in a multitude of ways and to seek out numerous pathways to overcome challenges. The school emphasizes that rigor is the path to developing a joy of learning, being challenged and in surpassing the highest expectations. Teachers foster this joy in students by creating a safe environment where risks are welcome and failure is embraced as stepping stones to success. Every student at Rocketship Fuerza not only attends their STEM and Humanities classes, but the school offers an extensive variety of enrichment classes. Every student is taught Mexican folklorico, mariachi music, Spanish classes, and physical education. When you come to Fuerza you can observe students engaged in dance and using their native language to learn social studies content. Last year, the school had their first Spring Concert where over 900 people attended. Guests included the San Jose's mayor, Sam Liccardo, and several political and community leaders who came to see "Rocketeers" exhibit their talents on stage.

One of the best parts about Rocketship Fuerza is its commitment to parent partnership. Many parents participate in the Los Dichos Program, a literature-based program emphasizing stories of Latino origin that not only benefits the students, but also benefit the parents. Los Dichos helps parents, especially parents who speak Spanish as their primary language, to be involved in their children's education and instill a positive cultural identity. The impact that Los Dichos has on Fuerza students is unique. All students develop a greater appreciation and respect for the Latino culture by promoting cultural competence and tolerance throughout the school community. Families are proud to be Rocketship Fuerza Rocketeers!

Rocketship Fuerza is about more than providing kids with a great school. It's about defeating the destiny of demographics and unleashing a new generation of leaders who will transform communities and the nation. Ganas!

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Fuerza students enjoy Mexican folklorico dance